Every day in April we will reveal the greatest stories ever told starring a particular character or written/drawn by a particular creator (and throughout the month, you’ll get daily chances to vote for NEXT week’s lists). These lists are voted on by YOU, the reader!
Here is the list of characters/creators featured so far (along with the rules on how to vote).
Today’s list is the Greatest Black Widow Stories Ever Told!
10. “…And To All a Good Night” Amazing Adventures #5
This is a classic Marvel Christmas tale by Roy Thomas, Gene Colan and Bill Everett. Widow’s friend, Ivan, saves a young teen from killing himself and contacts Widow for help. He tells about how he fell out with his friends due to their pursuing a life of MURDER, so now they’re coming to silence him before he can spill about their nefarious deeds – Widow is there to protect him, but it doesn’t go down as planned. It’s a tragic little tale of how you can do all you can to help someone but it doesn’t mean that things will work out. Merry Christmas! Gene Colan drew an iconic shot of Black Widow getting out of the shower that at least brightens up this tragic tale.
9. Black Widow: The Coldest War
Gerry Conway, George Freeman and 735 inkers (at least) tell this story, which features Natasha being blackmailed into doing some stuff against her morals in exchange for the life of her late husband, who Natasha thought had died TWICE already. Conway also gets into how people like the Black Widow and Nick Fury deal with the end of the Cold War.
8. “The Valiant Also Die” Avengers #43-44
This story could theoretically stretch all the way back until Avengers #38, when the Black Widow goes on a secret SHIELD mission that causes her to publicly turn on the Avengers and the United States to go undercover on a joint Russian/Chinese project, the Psychotron (a machine that can feed off of your greatest fears). Her mission is to destroy the machine. Her current boyfriend, Hawkeye, is distraught. Black Widow was JUST about to be made a member of the Avengers when she seemingly breaks bad. He can’t help but continue to love her while also maintaining faith that she is, in fact, turning bad as a ruse. So he searches for her for a number of issues. Roy Thomas, Don Heck and George Roussos were the creative team for #38-40. John Buscema takes over as penciler with #41 and Vince Colletta inks #43. Anyhow, in #43, Hawkeye and Hercules impulsively follow a tip that takes them all the way to China to rescue the Black Widow. Once there they learn that Widow’s husband, who she thought died, is actually alive and has been brainwashed and experimented on until he has become a Communist version of Captain America. The Avengers show up to free Hawkeye and Hercules and all hell breaks loose. The Communist Cap, the Red Guardian, fights against his American opposite but the evil General Ling attacks Captain America from behind. The Red Guardian is angry at this, since he wanted to beat Cap fair and square. Meanwhile, Natasha takes the opportunity to destroy the Psychotron, even though in doing so she leaves herself vulnerable to attack. However, her husband breaks his programming and saves her life, taking a bullet for her. Before he dies, he also saves Cap’s life again. With her mission redeemed, the Black Widow is considered a hero once more! She and Hawkeye are reunited (but as you all know, it does not go well for them)!
7. “Breakdown” Black Widow #1-3
A sequel to the 1999 Black Widow mini-series, this mini-series (co-written by Devin Grayson and Greg Rucka and drawn by Scott Hampton) has Natasha and the new Black Widow, Yelena Belova, effectively switch bodies to teach Yelena a lesson. That description does not do the story justice. Grayson and Rucka do a really nice job with the characterizations of both Natasha and Yelena, particularly Yelena adjusting to life as Natasha (unlike Natasha, she doesn’t know what has happened to her).
6. “Encircle” Secret Avengers #20
An absolutely stunning one-shot issue by Warren Ellis and Alex Maleev has Black Widow as the lone survivor of a Secret Avengers attack. Before he dies, War Machine gives Natasha an “escape hatch,” which is a time travel device. The devices has a number of pre-set destinations in the past. While in the past, Natasha naturally asks whether she can just return five minutes before the attack and just stop the battle before her friends are killed. Beast (who developed the device) explains that that is impossible, as dramatic changes to the timeline are basically like throwing up a brick wall in the middle of a highway. However, changes CAN be made, only if you are extremely deliberate and careful with them. Natasha then spends the entire issue traveling throughout time working with various interesting characters in an attempt to put together a series of events that would result in her teammates living. It is a tremendously well-written issue. And Maleev is always great.
The top five is on the next page!
5. “I Got the Yo-Yo… You Got the String” Bizarre Adventures #25
Ralph Macchio and Paul Gulacy give us an intricate spy story in this black and white adventure. The star of the issue is Gulacy, who mixes between stunning noir-driven artwork and Steranko-esque designs. Really a stellar job by Gulacy.
4. “Homecoming” Black Widow #1-6 (2004)
Richard K. Morgan is the writer on this engaging and complex spy story with artwork by Bill Sienkiewicz and Goran Parlov. It ties in with Natasha’s past as she investigates an attack on her by a mysterious assailant. Sienkiewicz, in particular, really does a great job.
3. “Name of the Rose” Black Widow #1-5 (2010)
Now that I think of it, it is kind of weird how Name of the Rose ALSO opens with Natasha almost being killed by a mysterious assailant. Anyhow, that is the only real similarity between this tale by Marjorie Liu and Daniel Acuña and Morgan’s Homecoming. This story has Natasha convincingly framed as a traitor to her American superhero friends and a great angle on the story is that while Natasha is going about her awesome spy stuff while on the run, Liu tells a parallel tale of her friends (almost all ex or current boyfriends) try to prove her innocence on their own, as they’ve all seen this story before. They know her too well to believe even an excellent frame-job like this one. Liu also brings in Lady Bullseye from Ed Brubaker’s Daredevil as a new adversary for Natasha. I was a bit disappointed by the reveal of the man behind it all, but really, all in all this is an excellent adventure with outstanding art from Acuña.
2. “Itsy Bitsy Spider” Black Widow #1-3 (1999)
After making a short appearance in the Paul Jenkins/Jae Lee Inhumans mini-series (I don’t know if they created her or if she was given to them to put into their work ahead of her debut in this mini-series), this mini-series by Devin Grayson and JG Jones officially introduced the NEW Black Widow, Yelona Belova. This mini-series pits the new and the old Black Widow against each other, as Natasha tries to get her successor to understand the things that Natasha herself learned (said lessons continue in the sequel mini-series to this one, also featured on the list).
1. “Web of Intrigue” Marvel Fanfare #10-13
Ralph Macchio and George Perez co-wrote this series with beautiful pencils by Perez and inks by a few different inkers (most prominently Brett Breeding). This is an over-the-top romp throughout the globe as Black Widow’s friend, Ivan, is kidnapped (and brainwashed). Natasha is lured to the U.S.S.R. where she is beset by six master assassins, all as part of a plot to replace her with a double in the U.S. to kill Nick Fury! Can Natasha stop the assassins, save Ivan AND stop the plot against Nick with the faux Black Widow? Well, of course she can, but it is the getting there that’s the fun! Perez’s artwork is great. There is an especially awesome double-page spread on the Widow’s history leading up to this story that is quite awesome.
That’s the list! Agree? Disagree? Let us know!